Records specialist travels to preserve court documents - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Records specialist travels to preserve court documents, free space

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Kyle Campbell, a records specialist, spends a lot of time on the road.

Traveling from courthouse to courthouse, Campbell works not only to preserve court documents, but also help free up space.

Campbell works with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to convert county clerks' documents into microfilm — a preservation tool that looks similar to a roll of film negatives.

"Most of West Virginia's courthouses were built in the late 19th century to early 20th century so they weren't really built to house records for this length of time," he said.

A typical deed book can contain about 500 pages. A small roll of microfilm can store a little more than one book and a bigger microfilm roll can store up to 2,600 pages of court documents.

How long does it take to scan these books?

It depends. For loose-leaf binders, it can take about 15 minutes. For older deed books that don't come apart, it can take an hour each.

Microfilm rolls are stored offsite. They are I-readable and can be recreated into a digital form. Mostly, what goes onto microfilm are birth, marriage and death records and deed books.

"If we don't work on a way to preserve these books, eventually over time, the paper will break down and they will be lost."

As the years have gone by, fewer documents have been preserved this way. And as courthouses increasingly move toward the digital age, where does that leave microfilm?

In a previous interview, Mike Ward, who is in charge of record preservation, said although microfilm isn't used as much as it once was to preserve documents, there still may need to be microfilm backups in the future.

The reason, Ward says, is because of a computer crash or user error.

Campbell explained the division is starting off with the southern part of the state first

"We figured that if we do small counties that don't have a lot of money and wouldn't have a chance to do this work otherwise, we would help them out," he said.  

Campbell used his recent trip to Summers County as an example, saying officials have third-party vendors to digitize and microfilm a majority of their books but they still have about 60 more to go.

Mary Beth Merritt, county clerk for Summers County, said she is happy they are backing up these files.

"We're so thankful to get this project because we wouldn't be able to have these books microfilmed and digitized if it hadn't been for the state," she said. "It's all the county deeds here in Summers County backed up on state level incase something happens to original records."

Most of these books stem back to the beginning of each county. Campbell said many of these books stem from the 1820s to 1880s.

Microfilm has another role —  freeing up space for newer documents.  

"It preserves the documents in the courthouses so it will help out the courthouse because by digitizing county clerk records, they can take their older books not in use and take them off the shelves and make room for new books."

Right now, Campbell is just focusing on the county clerk's office. Yet, since space is a universal problem, Campbell hopes to help other offices too.

"As the project continues to grow and when we get done with the county clerk's office, I do picture they would want to move to diff offices like the prosecutor or the circuit clerk," he said.